Chemical and Biological Defense:

DOD Needs to Continue to Collect and Provide Information on Tests and on Potentially Exposed Personnel

GAO-04-410: Published: May 14, 2004. Publicly Released: May 14, 2004.

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In the 1962-74 time period, the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted a classified chemical and biological warfare test program--Project 112--that might have exposed service members and civilian personnel to chemical or biological agents. In 2000 the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began obtaining information from DOD about the program. Concerned that veterans and others might have health problems from exposure during Project 112 and similar DOD tests, Congress required DOD in the 2003 Defense Authorization Act to identify Project 112 tests and personnel potentially expose--service members and the number of civilian personnel--and other chemical and biological tests that might have exposed service members. GAO was required by the act and subsequent guidance from the congressional requesters to evaluate (1) DOD's process to identify the Project 112 tests and the service members and the number of civilian personnel potentially exposed, (2) DOD's progress in identifying similar tests outside Project 112, and (3) VA's progress in notifying DOD identified veterans.

DOD appears to have accurately identified all major chemical and biological tests associated with Project 112. DOD identified 134 planned tests of which 50 were conducted. Of the 50 tests, 19 were ship-based and 31 were landbased. GAO found no evidence of any other Project 112 tests. DOD performed a reasonable investigation of service members potentially exposed to agents in the tests. However, GAO believes that there likely are service members and civilian personnel potentially exposed to agents who have not been identified for various reasons. First, DOD was unable to identify any service members for 21 land-based tests because it was unable to find the needed records. Second, although DOD addressed the basic mandate requirement regarding civilian personnel by estimating that 350 had been potentially exposed, it did not specifically search for individual civilian personnel exposures or foreign national exposures. DOD limited its investigation of specific exposures to identifying military veterans who might be eligible for medical services from VA. Third, DOD did not pursue all possible sources of information during its investigation, and additional identifications continue. DOD recently identified 51, and VA, 172 more military personnel. GAO identified 167 additional service members and civilian personnel who might have been exposed, plus additional sources of information. DOD has not determined the feasibility of continuing its efforts to identify additional potentially exposed service members or civilian personnel. In February 2004, following GAO inquiries, another DOD office began preparing a plan to identify tests outside Project 112 that might have exposed service members. Since World War II, DOD has conducted hundreds of classified tests within the 48 contiguous states. Although not required by the act, DOD also plans to identify service members and civilian personnel who were potentially exposed by these tests. However, that office has not yet completed its plan for doing this. As of March 2004, VA had notified 3,397,, or 58 percent, of the 5,842 service members whom DOD reported in June 2003, including 751 whom VA determined to be deceased. VA is still processing over 2,400 cases but is having difficulty making these notifications owing to the absence of key needed information such as military service numbers. VA is developing a plan to resolve these more difficult cases and expects to complete its notification process by September 1, 2005. To date, VA has granted 10 of 316 benefit claims related to Project 112. Recent changes to VA's eligibility requirements could increase the number of Project 112-related medical visits. DOD has not designated an office to act as a single point of contact for collecting and providing information regarding the results of its investigations of DOD chemical and biological tests conducted inside or outside of Project 112.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct appropriate office(s) to determine the feasibility of addressing unresolved issues associated with Project 112 and the appropriateness of and responsibility for reporting new information, such as the identification of additional potentially exposed service members, civilian employees, contractors, and foreign nationals who participated in the tests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our report entitled CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL DEFENSE: DOD Needs to Continue to Collect and Provide Information on Tests and Potentially Exposed Personnel (GAO-04-410), we recommended that DOD determine the feasibility of addressing unresolved issues associated with Project 112 (a series of chemical and biological tests conducted in the 1960s and 1970s) and the appropriateness of and responsibility for reporting new information, such as the identification of additional potentially exposed service members, civilian employees, contractors, and foreign nationals who participated in the tests. As of February 28, 2005, DOD reported that it believed it had exhausted all reasonable sources of information to identify Project 112 military participants, although it remains open to the receipt of relevant additional documentation from veterans for the purpose of certifying them as Project 112 participants. However, DOD has decided not to pursue the identification of non-military personnel other than to identify the number of civilians possibly affected by Project 112 tests because (1) these were knowledgeable participants in the tests and (2) the statute of limitations for filing workmen's compensation claims related to Project 112 tests has long passed. DOD has therefore determined it has no intent to establish reporting channels for such participants. DOD has therefore addressed the recommendation that it determine the feasibility and its responsibility for continuing identifications of military personnel as well as others potentially exposed by Project 112 tests.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct appropriate office(s) to finalize and implement a plan for identifying DOD projects and tests conducted outside Project 112 that might have exposed service members to chemical or biological agents and ensure that the plan addresses the scope, reporting requirements, milestones, and responsibilities for those involved in completing this effort.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Our report recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the appropriate office to finalize and implement a plan for identifying DOD projects and tests conducted outside Project 112 that might have exposed service members to chemical or biological agents. In reporting the status of DOD actions to implement our recommendation, the DOD Inspector General's Office (DODIG) reported that the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense was responsible for finalizing a plan to work with veterans and veterans service organizations to identify projects and tests conducted by facilities other than the Desert Test Center (Project 112) that may have exposed service members to chemical or biological agents. This plan, the action plan for the "U.S. Chemical and Biological Tests Repository" project, was reported by DODIG as completed by December 17, 2004, and that implementation of the plan had begun by February 28, 2005. A DOD official responsible for executing this plan confirmed the plan had been completed in December 2004 and that, as of September 26, 2005, investigative teams had conducted visits to chemical and biological test facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, and Fort Detrick, MD. According to this official, 300 names of service members have so far been identified as participating in activities that might have exposed them to chemical and biological agents at these locations. These names are presently considered as valid entries in a data base of potentially exposed personnel. The official also stated that additional locations would be visited as directed by the plan and that any additional identified and validated names of potentially exposed military personnel would be added to this data base. DOD has therefore finalized and implemented its plan as recommended by our report.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct appropriate office(s) to designate a single point of contact for providing VA, individuals, and other interested parties such as foreign governments, as appropriate, with information related to tests and potential exposures in and outside Project 112.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported that, while DOD made a reasonable effort to identify Project 112 tests and the service members who might have been exposed, the Department was only in the preliminary stages of a mandated second investigation identifying tests outside Project 112 that might have exposed service members. We also reported that DOD has not designated what office will serve as the primary point of contact for providing information relating to tests inside and outside Project 112. We concluded that this situation could result in DOD's having no single point of contact for providing information--including the additional identification of personnel potentially exposed--to the Department of Veterans' Affairs that notified service members of their potential exposure or to other interested parties. We recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the appropriate office to designate this point of contact. In commenting on our draft report, DOD identified and designated the single point of contact as the Deployment Health Support Directorate, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. In following up on our report recommendations, DOD confirmed that it had completed the recommended action.

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